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Economic workshop debated

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At their Dec. 1 meeting, members of Village Council debated the possible outcomes of inviting economist Michael Shuman to the village for a workshop, and how to ensure that the event produces specific actions to strengthen the local economy.

“I don’t want this to be a weekend when people gather, get energized and then it goes away,” said Karen Wintrow. “I want to make sure we can show a product.”

Shuman is a nationally known author and consultant on “re-localization,” a strategy to help small towns prosper by keeping local resources in the community. At Council’s last meeting on Nov. 17, members unanimously agreed to draft a resolution inviting Shuman to hold a weekend workshop at the end of January, in response to a proposal by Dimi Reber of Smart Growth Task Force. While Smart Growth will organize the event, the $7,000 fee will come from funds that Council has earmarked for economic development.

After the Nov. 17 meeting, Wintrow e-mailed other Council members her concerns that the Shuman event might not produce “deliverables.” Specifically, she requested that Council ask Shuman to agree to supply the names of people involved in the event, to have a private meeting with representatives of Chamber of Commerce, Community Resources and others directly involved with local economic development, to produce recommendations for specific actions appropriate for Yellow Springs, and to provide a DVD and written summaries of the workshop.

After a lengthy discussion at the Dec. 1 meeting, Council unanimously agreed to include the deliverables as part of the contract for Shuman, which is currently being drafted by Village Solicitor John Chambers, with one revision, that the meeting between Shuman and villagers concerned with local economic development not be private.

The Shuman event will begin on Friday, Jan. 16, with a public forum open to all, according to Reber. A day and a half long workshop will follow, involving about 30 to 40 people. While the workshop is open to any who wish to register and pay the $75 fee, representatives of local groups involved in development issues are being asked to send representatives, Reber said. These groups include Community Resources, the Chamber of Commerce, Tecumseh Land Trust, the Arts Council, Green Environmental Coalition, the Energy Task Force, Home, Inc., Antioch University McGregor and the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute.

While organizers hope the workshop produces specific actions, Reber cautioned not to expect a quick fix for complex issues.

“While our intent is to have this tiny period of time produce something tangible, it’s a tiny period of time,” Reber said. “Our intent is to bring someone whose perspective is unusual to begin a dialogue with those concerned about economic development. It would be fantastic if we have an implementable plan by the end of the workshop, but our larger intent is an educational one. This is not a silver bullet, but a shift in how you think.”

Hassan Rahmanian, who uses Shuman’s books in the community economics class he teaches for the Nonstop Liberal Arts Institute, also urged Council to focus on the workshop’s educational aspects.

“It’s helpful to look at economic planning from different angles, and this is a look at the economic role of citizens,” Rahmanian said. “It’s a way of thinking differently that changes the quality of the conversation.”

The Yellow Springs event will begin with a public forum during which Shuman will lay out his principles on re-localization, and the workshop will flesh out those principles in the context of Yellow Springs, “with an eye toward developing implementable action plans,” Reber said.

According to Council member Lori Askeland, Shuman’s fee includes his creation of a “leakage analysis” for Yellow Springs, a document that identifies ways local resources are currently leaking from the community. Possible action outcomes might include strategies such as the creation of time dollars or local credit cards, Askeland said.

Wintrow and Council member Kathryn Van der Heiden expressed concern that Shuman might mistakenly think Yellow Springs is larger than it is, and therefore would suggest unworkable strategies. However, according to Reber, Shuman has already visited the village several times as a speaker with the Peak Oil conference, and is well acquainted with it. Van der Heiden also stated that she would “feel better about” the workshop if she knew for sure that those already involved in local economic development will attend.

Almost all of the deliverables submitted by Wintrow can be clearly addressed in Shuman’s contract, with the exception of a private meeting between Shuman and local economic development specialists, Reber said.

“We don’t want him at a meeting that is not transparent to the public,” she said.

When Council President Judith Hempfling proposed striking the word “private” from the meeting, Council members unanimously approved a motion to include the list of deliverables in the contract for Shuman.

In other Council business:

• Village Manager Mark Cundiff gave an update on the Center for Business and Education, or CBE. The Village is beginning the process of hiring a consultant for the construction of roads and utilities in the project, which is on the western edge of the village. After recently posting a letter of intent for the hiring, the Village received 17 responses from interested parties, of which 14 were qualified, Cundiff said.

In upcoming weeks, a committee composed of Cundiff, Village Assistant Planner Ed Amrhein, Ellen Hoover of the Chamber of Commerce and Carol Gasho of Community Resources will narrow down the applicants and hope to have a selection by the beginning of the year, according to Cundiff, who said that he hopes the project begins in May and concludes within 18 months from that time.

• Council approved a request from the Human Relations Commission to fund an insurance premium due immediately for the African American Cultural Works, or AACW, in the amount of about $600. The AACW ran short of money to pay the premium due to a decline in the number of paying customers at the Blues Fest, according to HRC representative Don Wallis, but the group will have the necessary funds for the next quarterly insurance payment. If Council does not approve the request, upcoming AACW events such as Kwanzaa and the village celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday would be in jeopardy, Wallis said.

Last year’s Village budget included $10,000 earmarked for special projects of the HRC, most of which was not spent, according to Council Clerk Deborah Benning, who said Council could access the HRC money to support the AACW. Council member John Booth also contributed the unused portion of funds raised for his campaign to the HRC earmark. Council members expressed their support for the AACW and agreed to the request for emergency funding, to be taken from the unused HRC earmark.

• Council unanimously approved a new contract for Council Clerk Deborah Benning.

• Cundiff presented information on two alternative insurance options for Village employees. Cundiff suggested offering employees a choice between two plans, both through Anthem. One plan, currently used, is a PPO plan, offered at an almost 12 percent premium increase, and the other is a high deductable HSA plan, offered at a 31 percent premium decrease. The deductable would be partly paid by the employee. Cundiff suggested “front-loading” the HSA accounts of employees who choose this option with a one-time only payment of $750 for an individual and $1,500 for a family; the Village would provide $1,500 for a single person and $3,000 for a family in quarterly payments of $375 and $750 respectively, with employees contributing to the account as well. The Village could save $115,000 by going with the HSA plan, Cundiff said, and that savings would be used to offset the payment into the employee’s HSA.

Council will vote on the insurance plans at their Dec. 15 meeting.

• Council will meet again at 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 15, in Council Chambers at the Bryan Center.

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